After a fresh dumping of snow, just about any wooded path in the Northeast will suffice for me, but I’m assuming that you’re talking about groomed trail networks. While the highest-quality trails are the Kingdom Trails in the Northeast Kingdom of northern Vermont and the Jackson cross-country area near North Conway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, those aren’t my favorites. That title goes to these three resorts, all of which have unique personalities that make them quirky and inviting. All of the trail systems listed below are equipped for both skate and classic skis, so no matter how you move, you can find a place there.
Cross-Country Skiing: Sewall Woods Trails, New Hampshire
A local non-profit in the Rockwell-worthy, white picket fence town of Wolfeboro maintains these 18 miles of mostly intermediate trails in the woods above the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. The fanciest frill is an empty, wood-heated warming hut at the trailhead where you pay for your trail pass on the honor system. The grooming is top-notch, though, and you feel like you have the woods to yourself. If you somehow get bored with the trails, you can always venture onto the wide, flat expanse of the frozen lake. The heart of the cross-country skiing community here is the Nordic Skier ski shop on Main Street.
STAY: The Wolfeboro Inn, just steps from one of the trailheads, starts at $120 a night.
Cross-Country Skiing: Catamount Outdoor Family Center, Vermont
Unless you’re a local, you’ve probably never heard of the Catamount Outdoor Center. In winter, families will pull into the parking lot early on weekends to spend the day, bringing lunch and taking warm-up breaks in the old farmhouse that serves as a casual lodge and rental center. Fitness freaks will often come before sunrise on weekdays to get in a workout on one of the two main loops before heading to work, and retirees and the self-employed of Burlington filter in throughout the day. Regardless of when you go to Catamount, though, you can be assured that its trails, which vary from beginner to extremely hilly and challenging, will be well-maintained and never boring.
STAY: The welcoming Willard Street Inn is an old Victorian house in the heart of downtown Burlington and a favorite among visitors to town who want to avoid chain hotels. Starts at $145 a night.
Cross-Country Skiing: Mount Van Hoevenberg, New York
Given its lack of fancy viewing areas for spectators and low-key facilities, it's hard to imagine that Mount Van Hoevenberg hosted the cross-country skiing events for the 1980 Winter Olympics. But enter into the woods and you immediately find yourself in a Nordic wonderland. The trails on Van Hoevenberg's impeccably kept 31-mile network vary from extremely easy to cry-for-your-mama black diamond. The ski area sits in the hills about 10 minutes outside of the village of Lake Placid, next to the Olympic bobsled track, and because most winter visitors to the area come for the skiing at Whiteface, the Nordic paths are left deliciously empty for locals and the world-class athletes that come there to train and compete.
STAY: The old Mirror Lake Inn, on the shore of Mirror Lake in downtown Lake Placid, is expensive, but given its warmth, location, and service, it's worth the price. Rates start at $245 a night.